From the frivolous back to the intense, we return to the continued evolution of grunge rock with another outstanding album, “Dirt” by Alice In Chains. Not only does this record contain my all-time favorite track from any of these artists, it is the #1 all-time rated grunge album on loudwire.com, even over higher profile releases from Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I would tend to agree, there is just something extra that connects with me regarding the pairing of Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell. Staley’s vocals only grow darker and more haunting with this record, and the songwriting excellence, guitar riffs and harmony vocals from Cantrell make them an unmatched power duo in this genre.
The record explodes with “Them Bones”, another of their very best songs, and I just can’t relay fully how perfect Staley’s voice is for songs like this. Already sinking into the world of depression and addiction, you can hear and feel the pain of his existence in each song, and this one is particularly prophetic of his long and tragic decline.
“Dam That River” is a more up-tempo rocker, and Cantrell carries this tune with his grinding, driving guitar lead. “Rain When I Die” slows it back down, and their harmonies blend in perfectly around the crushing guitar and rhythm section. It doesn’t get any more optimistic with “Down In A Hole”, and “Sickman” reminds me of what we would eventually hear from Rob Zombie and his band.
The highest praise here is reserved for “Rooster”, a sad and terrifying tribute to Jerry Cantrell’s father and his time served in Vietnam. If any song has ever fully captured the despair and sheer horror of war, it is this song. Staley’s tortured vocals are absolutely perfect, both in the low register and when he rages as the chords slam down. Hard rock under any label, whichever one you may prefer to use, just doesn’t get any better than this, and to me, this song still stands as the best example of how great Layne Staley was as a rock singer.
Other stand out tracks on this album are the title track, “Junkhead”, and “God Smack”, and the rest of the album is equally morose and sadly tragic as the noose of heroin begins to slowly tighten. It is amazing how good this band was at their best, and even though Cantrell ultimately fared much better than Staley, you can’t help but wonder if there was any other way but the path they chose.